William H. Rumsey Sr., 78, who spent more than 40 years as a Washington educator and who was director of the D.C. Recreation Department from 1976 to 1983, died Nov. 9 at Holy Cross Hospital. He had pneumonia and Parkinson's disease.
Dr. Rumsey started his career in 1939 as a recreation aide in charge of shower maintenance at the old Dunbar High School pool. By the 1960s, he was a high-profile educator who oversaw a night-school diploma program for dropouts, was principal at McKinley Technical High School and chief education adviser to then-Mayor Walter E. Washington before arriving at the Recreation Department as deputy director in 1974.
As director, he brought the city its first marathon, in 1981. It fizzled out by the late 1980s but is being revived next spring, said his son, William H. Rumsey Jr., chief of staff to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D).
Dr. Rumsey also proposed starting a fee system for recreation facilities, which angered many residents and some federal politicians who likened it to double taxation. The department later started charging fees.
He implemented a mayoral mandate to lay off hundreds of Recreation Department employees, prompting protests from those workers, and closed several recreation centers to cut costs at a time the city was nearing a $60 million deficit.
Perhaps his highest-profile work was fighting to reopen the Anthony Bowen YMCA, a historic black landmark in the Shaw neighborhood. YMCA officials said Bowen was too costly to maintain and violated safety and fire codes.
Dr. Rumsey, who also was chairman of the Bowen Y's management committee, denounced the YMCA's decision. "This closing means that these kids, these short-leggers, these babies do not have a facility in that area to go to," he said.
No agreement was reached at the time, and the YMCA sold the building to the Shaw Heritage Trust in 1985. The building, now operated by the Thurgood Marshall Center Trust, reopened last year after renovations and was renamed the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage. It houses seven nonprofit groups serving children and families.
In 1984, Mayor Marion Barry appointed Dr. Rumsey to the D.C. Public Employee Relations Board. He also was a youth adviser to Barry.
At his death, Dr. Rumsey was an emeritus board member of the United Black Fund Inc., a charitable organization.
William Henry Rumsey Sr. was born in Alexandria and grew up in Washington, where he was a graduate of Dunbar High School and Howard University. He received a master's degree in administration and supervision of secondary schools from George Washington University and a doctorate in psychology from Florida East Coast University.
He served in the Army in Europe during World War II and saw combat during the Battle of the Bulge. He retired from the Army Reserve in 1983 as a colonel. His decorations included the Bronze Star.
In the early 1950s, he was back in Washington, teaching physical education and business at Shaw Junior High School. By the early 1960s, he was assistant principal at Dunbar and liaison officer on the President's Committee for Washington Action for Youth.
In the mid-1960s, he was principal of the School to Aid Youth night program at Spingarn High, which helps high school dropouts earn a diploma. He had hot dinners brought to the school cafeteria to help students stay enrolled.
As principal of McKinley Technical High School from 1969 to 1971, he led the District's first attempt to implement a system to divide the academic year into four nine-week quarters. An alternative to classes that lasted all year, the system was designed to offer a wider menu of courses and discourage students from skipping classes.
"I seriously feel that unless we change the traditional lock-step kind of education, we will continue to fill the blocks with youngsters who just leave school because it is not exciting or relevant for them," he told The Washington Post in 1969.
After a failed bid in 1970 to become superintendent of schools, he was appointed the next year to head the educational affairs office in the D.C. Human Relations Department, which made him liaison between city government and the school board. He also oversaw the city's public colleges, the public library and programs to train the unemployed.
In 1979, he led the mayor's task force to plan for Pope John Paul II's visit to Washington.
He was former youth program director and trustee of Galbraith AME Zion Church in Washington.
Since the late 1990s, he had lived at the Woodside Center nursing home in Silver Spring. He still had a residence in Washington.
In addition to his son, of Washington, survivors include his wife of 55 years, Leona Cooper Rumsey of Washington; a daughter, Constance Rumsey of Philadelphia; a sister, Mary Alice Romeo of Upper Marlboro; and two grandsons.